All of the communication problem-personalities can hurt morale, but the Office Gossip really can make it plummet.
Gossips love to be “in the know.” They enjoy being the ones who share news first, especially when it’s juicy—the more scandalous or sensational the story, the better. Office romances and organizational layoffs are among their favorite topics. As long as something might be true, it’s worth mentioning.
Working with a gossip:
- Eliminate the opportunity. Gossip thrives in environments where reliable information is scarce. If you’re in a leadership position, keep your team informed. There will, of course, be information you can’t share—or can’t share right away—but keeping everyone in the loop when possible will ease their fears and reduce gossip.
- Don’t feed the fire. If you know a co-worker is a gossip, don’t engage with him or her in those kinds of conversations—even when the day’s topic is one you find intriguing. You’ll just encourage the person to continue spreading rumors of all types.
- Express your discomfort. Many gossips don’t realize there is a problem with their behavior. Be direct and tell them that it makes you uncomfortable. You can express that tactfully by saying something like “You know, I just don’t think that’s any of our business. Let’s talk about something else.” “I’d prefer not to discuss [his/her] personal business.” Or “When you suggest that those sorts of things might happen, you spread a lot of unnecessary negativity and anxiety throughout the staff.”
If you’re a gossip:
- Ask yourself “Is this any of my business?” Whenever you’re about to open your mouth about something at work, consider whether it’s really your concern. Does it affect you that Jennifer and Mark may be dating? Or that the marketing team—which you’re not on—might have to cut someone next month? Or that David looked pretty upset when he came out of the boss’s office? Probably not. In those cases, it’s better to keep your mouth closed.
Better yet, follow this advice from Buddha: “If you propose to speak, always ask yourself, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind.” If you limit yourself to what is true, necessary and kind, no one will ever accuse you of being a gossipmonger.
- Tally your positive and negative comments. For a week, keep track of how many times you speak positively about your colleagues and your organization while at work and how many times you speak negatively about them. That will make you more conscious of your gossiping. Then focus on replacing negative comments with positive ones. When you feel yourself about to say something negative or gossipy, bite your tongue until you can say something positive instead. It’ll take time to reform your habits, but it will happen if you make it a priority.
- Recruit a friend to help you stop. Explain to a trusted friend (preferably one who doesn’t gossip) that you intend to break your bad habit. Ask the person to give you a signal when you start engaging in conversations that are speculative, rumor-based or negative. The signal can be something that no one else would even notice, like a subtle clearing of the throat. You’ll recognize it, though, and be able to consciously redirect your conversation.
Are you sick of drama in the workplace? Attend the Stop the Workplace Drama Training Camp with Marlene Chism. You’ll learn to deal with everything from gossip and backstabbing to absenteeism and turnover. Marlene will be presenting in Chicago, Ill. on March 28 and 29. Sign up now!